The building in which 74 people died as a result of a fire belongs to the City of Johannesburg but was “invaded and hijacked” some years ago.
This is according to City of Johannesburg city manager Floyd Brink who was addressing the media on Thursday afternoon.
“I wish to…confirm that the affected building belongs to the City of Johannesburg. It is a building that was previously leased to the provincial Social Development Department and used as a shelter for abused women. At the conclusion of the lease, some challenges were encountered with the occupants and as a result of the hostilities and stalemate, the building was invaded and hijacked.
“In October 2019, the City through its Group Forensics and Investigation Services raided the building and as part of the operation realised the arrest of over 140 foreign nationals by Home Affairs and a suspect was incarcerated and charged for illegally collecting rental from tenants at the building. The case is with SAPS and no update is immediately available at this stage,” Brink said.
The 74 people confirmed to have died in the blaze include 24 females, 40 males and 10 with undetermined gender because they were burnt beyond recognition. Of these, 12 are children.
The city manager told the media briefing that the city is working to wrestle back control of hijacked buildings in the area.
“Let me at this stage express our condolences to the families of the deceased and hasten to add that all efforts are being put in place to provide the families and all affected with the relevant social and psychological support through the City’s Disaster Management and Social Development department.
“Our Social Development Department has deployed 16 social workers to provide assessment, trauma counselling and psychosocial support.
“As earlier stated, this is a tragic event and incident and one that is unprecedented given the number of lives lost. We will do our best to ensure that we act diligently in investigating the fire and equally, in our pursuit to reclaim hijacked and illegally occupied buildings in the city,” Brink said.
More than 50 people have been injured with many others displaced and Brink said three emergency accommodation sites have been identified for survivors and those affected.
These sites are:
- Hofland Recreation Centre in Bez Valley
- Ekhaya shelter in Hillbrow
- Impilo shelter in Fairview / Jeppestown
“After 72 hours the Human Settlements Department will advise on where they will be taken to once all logistics and related verifications have been finalised. At this stage, we believe a total of 200 or more families were residents at the building.
“At this stage, Fire Safety has commenced with investigations into the cause of the fire and has been part of the rescue operation from the morning. There is at this stage no preliminary reports.
“As the City we appreciate the assistance that we have received thus far and we continue to coordinate all efforts via the Joint Operations Centre of the City in response to this disaster,” Brink said.
The K9 unit of the South African Police Service is expected to be deployed to inspect the building to find any additional bodies or body parts.
The call centre numbers for assistance about missing family members are:
- 0800 203 886
- 011 355 3048
- 011 241 5707 – SAnews.gov.za